Maree McPherson interviews Cynthia Mahoney

The Birthing Episode

What is Cultivating Leadership and why does it matter?

guest host

Maree McPherson interviews Cynthia Mahoney


Welcome to The Cultivate Podcast – a podcast for leaders who want to cultivate healthier, happier and more human workplaces and lives! You can join our live recording sessions as well as head on over to the Cultivate community on Facebook to get together with like-minded people, share resources and continue the conversations and find the details of each episode in our first ten-episode season.

In this first episode Maree McPherson, leadership coach, facilitator and mentor, with a track record of helping regional women and teams, interviews Cynthia Mahoney, author, facilitator and coach about the podcast, what is a cultivating leader and how this style of leadership will help leaders and organisations to attract and retain staff who can do well and be well at work.

Cultivate is also the title of Cynthia Mahoney’s first book. It’s about how neuroscience and well-being can support leaders to build happier, healthier teams who are ready to thrive.


Read more about Maree McPherson’s book ‘Worthy’ – on straightening your self-talk and creating an intentional life.

Contact Maree


Cynthia (00:02:32):

So, welcome everyone today to this birthing episode of the Cultivate Podcast. And this is a podcast for leaders who want to cultivate healthier, happier, and more han workplaces and lives. I’d like to acknowledge that I’m recording on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging. And I extend my respects to any First Nations people we might have listening today.

So the leadership landscape has been totally disrupted over the past couple of years with the pandemic. And so in the words of Marshall Goldsmith Master Coach, what got us here won’t get us there. We need a different style of leadership. So that’s what this podcast is going to be about. It’s going to be about interviewing people who I believe have what I call a cultivating style of leadership. And that’s the style that I think leaders really need to be showing in today’s world to create workplaces where people can thrive and grow, and where people want to work and they want to stay.

Cynthia (00:03:48):

And that’s particularly important in today’s really competitive recruitment environment, where many, many clients of mine are finding it hard to attract staff, and there’s a lot of movement of staff. So the organizations and leaders that will have the edge are the ones that are able to meet people where they’re at and understand the needs of their people as they are now, not as they were in the past, because things are different now. I am thrilled today, today’s going to take a little bit of a different shape, because usually it’ll be me interviewing a cultivating leader. But for the birthing episode, I invited my friend and fabulous, fabulous colleague Marie McPherson to interview me. And so she’s going to ask me a few questions. I’ve written my book, Cultivate How neuroscience and Wellbeing Support Rural Leaders to Thrive. This podcast is for any leaders, but I’ve, in my book, I’ve focused on some of the special problems that rural leaders have. Now, Marie has leadership experience spanning over 35 years, and her leadership experience includes as a CEO in a peak body and another in a regional development organization. She’s based in Gippsland. She’s the author of two books, and she has post-graduate level training in executive and organizational coaching and business management. And she’s a renowned coach and consultant facilitator in Australia. So I’m so pleased to welcome Marie today. And so now I’m going to hand over to Marie to get us started on the birthing episode.

Maree (00:05:34):

I, I feel like we need to have a baby crying in the background as we sort of push out into the world. Since it’s the strangest thing. I think it’s really good to start with gratitude. So I want to do, I want to do a couple of, gratitude statements. And the first is to acknowledge that I’m coming to you from Barack Lung Country, which is Gunaikurnailand, where I sit in Gippsland and I want to acknowledge, the traditional owners, the actual traditional owners of the land where I sit and thank them for their custodianship of this beautiful place that I get to enjoy now that I live here. So it’s wonderful to acknowledge that. And also all of you for showing up today and to you Cynthia, for the invitation to be part of your birthing episode.

Maree (00:06:25):

This all sprouted from me sending you a message, I think saying, Woohoo, how exciting. You’ve got a podcast. And you said, well, actually, I’ve got a favor to ask you, <laugh>. So here we are. Here we are today. couple of, couple of housekeeping things. If you are able to today, it would be wonderful if you could have cameras on. We understand that for all sorts of reasons, people need to switch them off. It could be bandwidth, it could be don’t your hair properly today. It could be, there’s stuff going on in the background, what, whatever, but if you can, it would be fantastic because not only are we recording this for the podcast editors, we also will be, keeping the videos so Cynthia can use snippets of it from time to time. So that’s my trigger warning for you.

Maree (00:07:17):

If, if you do not wanna be seen, now is a good time to, to switch off. But if you are happy to be, fully present, then cameras on would be great. , the recording is going to be released for the podcast, as Cynthia said at the beginning, and some other housekeeping would be, please stay on mute for this part of the presentation. , because of the, the recording and the podcast editing, we need some background silence for the editors. We will have some time towards the end for q and a. So as, as we’re getting close to that time, I will let you know so you can start using the chat function to put your questions together. And then maybe in the last five to 10 minutes, we might open it up so that we can unmute people who are able to hang around for a chat. So, does that all sound good? Can I have nods and thbs up? Yep, we’re good. We’re good to go. All right. Now, Cynthia, you have introduced me. Now it’s my turn to ask you to introduce yourself. How did you come to be doing the work that you do now? How did you land in this place?

Cynthia (00:08:28):

Oh, Marie, that’s a big question, a big question, but I came from vanilla in regional Victoria, Northeast Victoria, the beautiful Rose City. And I grew up with a dad who worked for the Department of Ag in Banella. He was the, the manager there. And he just had, he was a really good leader, my dad, really good people person. So I grew up with lots of interesting people around me. It was those were the days where you used to invite new staff, They’d come to our house for dinner, there’d be lots of social functions. It was really like a family. And so I got to understand the world of ag science and just be really stimulated by all these amazing people. So I chose to study ag science and I had dreams of being an economist. And I do not know how that, now I don’t understand why, but I did at the time.

Cynthia (00:09:29):

And so I started my career in the Department of Ag, being an economist. But through my research, which was on looking at farm families and how their businesses changed over time and what made them successful, I’ve really discovered that it was about people’s personal lives and what was going on for them personally that impacted and, and led them to make really big decisions on their farms. That it wasn’t in the nineties, it was all about economic rational, and people would respond to economic signals. But my research showed that it was really what was going on in people’s personal lives, the stage that their families were at, what was going on that made the difference. And I, I just became very interested in how people work. I was with the Department of Ag for 17 years, and in that department I saw some really terrific leaders and some not so great leaders.

Cynthia (00:10:22):

And I also recognized that I wasn’t the best that I could be. So I got really stuck in there and I got into a very victimy mindset that it was a lot of things that happened with other people’s fault that I didn’t have any agency. I was really below the line. I look back now and go, Oh my goodness, my behavior was not, not great. And if someone actually had pointed out that since, you know, you think you’re this person, but actually you’re being that person, I would’ve been horrified. But we didn’t have those conversations, those sorts of conversations that we have now about being above and below the line and the choices you make in your behavior. I’ve also, in my life, experienced some mental health issues over, over the years. So 19, I had a breakdown. 27 I had another, I reckon for two years I was depressed.

Cynthia (00:11:22):

And then, in recent years, I’ve, I’ve also suffered anxiety and and depression. So I also know what a huge impact that when work’s not going well. The ripple effect that that has, not only to yourself, but to your family and the people that you are, that you are and your friends and everyone around you, your teammates. So when I left the department, I it was like I drew a line this sand, and there was certain behavior that was happening. And I went, Do you know what? For the first time, I’m going to back myself and not be a victim, and I’m going to actually go out and start afresh and back myself that it will all be okay. And since then, I’ve never looked back. I’ve, I’ve now a leadership, coach facilitator. I work with teams, I work with leaders. I do a lot of self development because I recognize just how important it is to keep developing our self-awareness cuz we have so many blind spots and I’m really passionate about. I just see a lot of burnout.

Cynthia (00:12:26):

I see a lot of toxic workplaces and some awesome workplaces in my work. And I’m really passionate about sharing what works and what doesn’t work, and empowering leaders and people to help each other be their best. And I also just don’t wanna see people get stuck at work and lose confidence. And I think we are all really awesome and sometimes we can just be far being environments that don’t suit us or we also just don’t have that self-awareness that enables us to know that we can actually make different choices and be really accountable and responsible for how we choose to show up at work and in life.

Maree (00:13:11):

Well, you know what, Sy we are really glad that you found this place cause we get to listen to your wisdom today. And imagine if you had stayed in the department and you were still sitting there now we wouldn’t be exposed to your b brilliance and your wonderful books. So gratitude to you for backing yourself and doing what you’ve done because we get to have this chat today. So thank you for that really comprehensive introduction cuz I think it does set the scene for the conversation we are going to have. I really think it helps to front end in those conversations, you know, what’s the context, where are we starting from and what got you curious. I think they’re really important questions. So let’s dig a bit deeper sync. Let’s, let’s go. Hey the past two years, well the last two and a half years really have shown us a whole new side to organizational leadership and how fast we have to transition to new models of work. You know, like we, we’ve been talking about some of this stuff for 25 years, maybe longer. And suddenly we had to do something different overnight. Everything had to change really quickly. What are you observing amongst leaders right now as a consequence of that rapid transition?

Cynthia (00:14:40):

Mm. So you are right, totally right Marie, that a lot of the concepts around leadership that are being spouse now that, that have really become front and center to people knowing that we’ve gotta do things differently have been around for a long, long time yet still. I think people just sometimes, like we’ve said before, they’re not self-aware or they get into patterns of behavior or there’s certain cultures they don’t they don’t know what they don’t know. And so some of those leadership behaviors have been really old school. And I think we see them a lot in, I see them a lot in federal parliament. I see them a lot in a lot of our industry organizations where it’s that power over kind of leadership. It’s the, my way or the highway. It’s probably more of a traditionally masculine type of leadership.

Cynthia (00:15:38):

And then also women feel that in order to be able to survive and operate and navigate that environment, that that’s the way they have to behave anyway. Or the women that do just behave that way, they’re the ones that, that are in leadership positions. And I think a lot of really good people get put off from leadership because of the behaviors that, that they observe. So that leadership, I think it’s, you know, that was fine. That was what we did and what we knew back then. So I don’t wanna shame anyone that, you know, you’re a, you’re a bad, you’ve been a bad leader that that was alright in the eighties and nineties, the kind of, you know, high performance more, more, more, more, more. But now we are seeing an epidemic of mental health issues and burnout in the workplace. , I’ve got a stat here that Gallup had found that around 70% of employees, so Gallup or a global analytics firm that do a lot of research into, into workplace, and they found that around 70% of employees worldwide are struggling or suffering rather than thriving in their overall lives.

Cynthia (00:16:55):

80% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. And this has not just a han cost, but an economic cost as well. So, and the other thing that we are finding in this, in this post, well I say post pandemic, it’s not post pandemic at all, but this sort of next phase of the pandemic is most of my clients are talking about that they’re finding it really hard to recruit staff and retain them. So it is an employee’s kind of choice world at the moment. And through the pandemic, it really caused people to look closely at their values and what was really important to them. And I think people that that, that veil, we used to think we had a work persona and a and a hu a a an out of work persona. And the pandemic, I reckon lifted up that veil or that curtain and we realized that actually we’re a person what we, what we do at home and how what we, what’s happening at home affects who we are and how we show up at work.

Cynthia (00:18:01):

Who we are and how we show up at work affects who we are and how we show up at home. And I reckon most of us already knew that, but there wasn’t permission to bring that to work. You had to kind of mask and pretend that you were a bit of a robot at work. , so now people are looking for workplaces that are a lot more han. They’re a lot more about relationships and it’s two way, like I show up to work and I get something from being at work. Like I get my growth and development and my values being aligned and I get a paycheck and I’m going to work for you. Whereas the transactional workplace was you, you’re a bit of a cog in a wheel, you show up, you get a paycheck and you go home. So that’s relational and what people are looking for and how leaders need to behave in order to meet people where they’re at today is really different. It’s a different style of leadership that’s required to what was acceptable in the past. Mm. So that leaders actually really need to invest in their own development and their own focus on supporting their people to be their best. That’s what the modern workplace is, is requiring.

Maree (00:19:19):

Yes, It’s so true. Cynthia, while you were speaking, I was thinking of that old adage that we used to hear, you know, our generation at least when we all had big hair and shoulder pads. Yes. You know, that, that power age, I, I’m old enough to remember that the Farrah Forcet hairdo and, and suits with shoulder pads. , I certainly started my career in that time and we used to talk about the idea of work to live or live to work. Now I think what we talk about is life and work is a component of that. So we are not, we’re not talking about worklife balance anymore. We, I personally think he’s an <inaudible>. , but we’re talking about life balance. Yeah. And the generations to follow us. Certainly pushing back on that. And it’s a very, it’s interesting isn’t it? Cuz it’s quite a privileged position we’re coming into at least in the western world, we are coming into an age where the type of work that is available to people is going to be much more where we command that kind of balanced approach and we look for different things in our leaders.

Maree (00:20:31):

So that was, that was certainly going through

Cynthia (00:20:34):

Mind. And, and Marie, I just wanna pipe up here. Thank you for mentioning the privilege because that’s something that I forgot to put in that is privilege, right? Like that, that’s kind of where you turning up to work and you, you think of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where at our basic needs, we need our basic food, water, we just need to survive. Whereas as our privilege increases, we are more interested in our you know, who am I as a person, where am I headed in life? So certainly I wanna acknowledge that that is a privilege and shows privilege that those kinds of things of relational workplaces are, are something that people with privilege are looking for. If you are just working three jobs to survive you would totally benefit from a relational workplace. , but some of your choices are, are kind of more about basic survival, if that makes sense.

Maree (00:21:32):

Totally. That’s exactly right. And I think we are coming to a world where there will be places where that is more prevalent and places where privilege is more prevalent, which has always been the case, but I suspect that gap is going to widen which is a whole other podcast Yeah. Conversation, isn’t it? We won’t go there today. But it’s really interesting to watch the way the world is developing. And what that beautifully segues to is my next question since, which is why does wellbeing matter so much in leadership? What is the cost if leaders don’t look after themselves?

Cynthia (00:22:11):

, so I just need to note that a leafblower has just started outside my, my

Maree (00:22:17):

We can’t hear it

Cynthia (00:22:18):

Good cause it’s stressing me out. Everyone. The podcast editor’s going to edit that bit out, but just between you and me, he stopped. Thank God. So the reason that wellbeing is so important for leaders is that you can’t look after anyone else if you’re not able to look after yourself. So I reckon that one of the responsibilities of leadership is actually to take care of yourself because that role models to your employees, that’s a priority. Someone said to me last week that it was the beautiful Kate Burke Dr. Kate Burke, who is a fantastic ag consultant. She’d heard a fabulous quote that wellbeing is a business decision. It’s actually making an investment in your business or your career. It’s not a nice to have, it’s not an optional extra. It’s actually the foundation that then enables you to have a great career or have a great business.

Cynthia (00:23:20):

, Gallup again, found career wellbeing has the biggest impact on people’s state of overall wellbeing and that we can’t thrive without a good job and career in our lives. So, and I know from my personal experience as well of being, you know, having tricky times and really challenging and tough times in the workplace about how that impacts on your wellbeing. , I had someone recently tell me about one their leader, and I just wanna share, I think it’s a great story of a cultivating leader, this different type of leader that we need in, in our workplaces today. So they work for a national team. She said her, the leader of their team turned up and said to everyone, everyone, I need to let you know I’m suffering some mental health issues at the moment and I needed to let you know, because sometimes I’m actually not going to be well enough to turn up to work and I’m not going to know when that might be, but I wanna be open and transparent with you.

Cynthia (00:24:24):

And sometimes you’ll look at my diary and you’ll see that I might not be have available space in my calendar, and that might be because I’m getting support outside of work. Now. She said that all the team went, thank you so much for trusting us with that. And she also said that everyone said, We have got your back. We are, we absolutely have your back. And there was no judgment, there was absolutely zero judgment. So now if he has a bit of an off day, if he’s not going so well, they all understand and there are no eye rolls, there are no, there’s no bitching behind he his back that, Oh, look at him, he’s off, off again today. It’s, it’s, and that is what we call a psychologically safe workplace where you can turn up as yourself fully han and you’re not going to be judged or punished for doing so.

Cynthia (00:25:22):

So if we’ve got more leaders that are able to be transparent and open like that leader, he’s taking care of his wellbeing, what a great message for his staff. Because if they’re ever in trouble and going through something like that, they know that it’s okay. Yeah. So I know also because I haven’t had wellbeing at different times in my life that when when you are really low, you, you can’t function. And, and it’s all related to the neuroscience. And I’ve got a passion also as a scientist in having evidence based approaches for the work that I do. And so the evidence and the brain science tells us that when our wellbeing is low, our brains aren’t able to function properly. When our wellbeing is high, we’re operating out of a different part of our brain, We’re operating out of our prefrontal cortex. And when we’re operating out of our prefrontal cortex, we make better decisions.

Cynthia (00:26:23):

Our lens to the world is wider. We can hear what other people are saying. We’re more creative, we’re more innovative, we’re more connected. We are able to perform at our best when we’re under stress and our wellbeing is low, wearing our reptile part of the brain, our amygdala and our lens to the world narrows, all we can do is think about our survival. We don’t make great decisions, We can’t even hear what other people are saying because all we’re thinking about is ourselves. So for leaders to operate at their best and help their staff operate it at their best, they’ve actually got an obligation to look after wellbeing and make wellbeing a priority. Because the brain science tells us that happier people perform better.

Maree (00:27:13):

It’s so true. It is so true. And I’m reminded of times where when I’ve been the leader and critical things have been happening in my life, and I’ve had teams say to me, You need to stop trying to solve this right now. We can see that you are in crisis. Would you trust us to get this done? You know, go and have a break and we do what needs to be done. And it’s so liberating to work in an environment where a team will be able to say that to you as, as their leader, but also to just be able to let go and say, You know what? They’ve got this, it’s going to be okay. I can go and attend to the stuff that I need to attend to. , really, really great example. So this is a cultivating leader. This is very, very good. Sy <laugh>. What I want to know is, what are some of the attributes that you think of when you think of a cultivating leader? You’ve given us the case study, What are some of the attributes that you would want us to be familiar with? So thinking about your book, thinking about the work that you do, what are some of those key things you want us to take away?

Cynthia (00:28:29):

The first thing that I wanna say is my book originally started out as a book on high performing teams. And through covid I realized that that was old school. That was dinosaur high performance. , like high performance is fine as an outcome. It’s an outcome of us looking after ourselves, like we perform better. But it’s not, it’s not an aim in itself. So it’s not a continual state of being. So we need to be able to be han and not perform. Okay. <laugh> sometimes, you know so that’s the first thing that I want to say. So therefore, a cultivating leader recognizes that whipping people and that continual pressure to do more, more, more with less, less, less. And where people have to hide how they’re feeling in order to survive that’s actually not going to help people perform better. So a cultivating leader really gets that, really gets that and enables their, their team to be han.

Cynthia (00:29:45):

I was listening to a radio interviewer talk about the Geelong Football Club who just won the premiership on the weekend. And I’m a Geelong supporter, so I’m very interested. Put that in, had to meet, had to pop it in the Australian Australian rules, football premiership. Went to the Geelong Football Club, this radio sports host said this, this coaches and support staff at Geelong, at the Geelong Football Club, their primary role is to help the players be their best. And I just went, Bam. What? That’s amazing. I bet that’s what every football club says, but whether they actually do it or not is is another thing. And I thought, imagine if that was what our leaders thought. My role as a leader, as a manager, as a senior staff member, as a, as a teammate, is to help those around me get the best out of themselves and be their best.

Cynthia (00:30:53):

That’s the primary role. Whereas I, I also hear leaders sometimes go, Oh, my staff are whinging again. Or you know, they, they, they don’t have that, that sympathy or, or empathy for their staff. There’s, there’s judging going on. So I believe that a cultivating leader really gets that that’s their role to grow, develop, nurture. A cultivating leader also isn’t a softie. Like that’s not what this is about. A cultivating leader is someone also who has the hard conversations and challenges their staff. Because in order to grow and develop, sometimes you’ve gotta be uncomfortable and you need that feedback. So they’re some of the key aspects that I think are a part of being a cultivating leader that providing psychological safety for people to be able to turn up to workers themselves, that really checking in and connecting with people, making it also part of your role to grow yourself and nurture yourself.

Cynthia (00:32:03):

Because as I said earlier, we’ve all got such blind spots and I dunno about you Marie, but at times through my life, I think, oh yeah, gosh, I’ve done so much work on myself. I’m, I’m pretty self-aware. And then even last week I just went, I, I’m getting some coaching myself at the moment and identified this whole other blind spot that’s kind of taken me back to basics again. And I think, gosh, I’ve got no idea. I’ve got so much more work to do. So that being open to growth, open to admitting that you don’t know what’s, you don’t have to know everything as a leader, that trusting your staff is really important. , I, I also surveyed my network to ask them what they thought a cultivating leader was. And it was someone that mentors others, someone that walks the talk that isn’t full of platitudes.

Cynthia (00:32:59):

And then when the chips are down, they turning to someone else. They mentioned Helen Haynes and Kathy McGowan, my network great female parliamentarians as cultivating leaders. And, and these women are not like, they challenge, they challenge, they push the status quo. They’re courageous, they’re brave, they’re standing up and , they’ve found their voice and they’re showing a lot of courage in their communities. And, and Kathy McGowan, if anyone knows Kathy, she absolutely challenges you to be your best. If you go with to her with a, a bit of a, Oh gee, Kathy, I reckon this should change, she does not let you put that monkey on her back. She will not walk away and go, Oh, alright, I better save you. She will say to you, Okay, what are you going to do about it? And she puts that monkey right back on your back to come up with some, some things yourself to make a change. So they’re some of the things that I believe a cultivating leader does.

Maree (00:34:07):

That’s very cool. Sy. Now I wanna throw a question to you that’s on notice. So we, we haven’t pre-constructed this one. I’m really curious to know when you are working as a coach with a leader and they are grappling with some of these things, what do you do to help them move towards a more cultivating state? Where would you begin? So they come to you, they’re talking about, you know, my staff are driving in nuts. I don’t seem to be able to cut through, they don’t seem to be doing what I need them to. You all those blind spots that might be evident. Where would you start from a coaching perspective?

Cynthia (00:34:52):

Ooh, that is a good question, Marie. Hmm.

Maree (00:34:56):

Sorry I did

Cynthia (00:34:58):

No, no, no, no,

Maree (00:34:59):

I’d love, but I’d love you to share some insights with people about, you know, where, where we can move people to through a coaching relationship. Cuz I know how powerful is can be.

Cynthia (00:35:12):

So I guess there’s a couple of things with coaching that coaching relies on the person coming up with their own solutions for themselves. So they’ve got the inner wisdom within them and it might be in their unconscious or their conscious mind. And part of the role of the coach is to uncover that wisdom that they’ve got. Sometimes though people do actually have blind spots, so there, there might be some tools that you can use about things that they really aren’t aware of. And so I’ve been using a tool called the Emotional Capital Report, which is about emotional intelligence and it’s a great way to get feedback from other people about about increasing your self-awareness. Self-awareness is in two parts. It’s how aware are we of the emotions going on within us at any one time, but also how aware are we of how others experience us?

Cynthia (00:36:10):

And a lot of the time we can have really great intentions, but actually not really be aware that that great motivation that we have, that positive motivation might come across in a way that we’re, that we are not intending. So that, that kind of shadow side of some of our, some of our, our strengths I guess. So for, for people that really do have a blind spot and aren’t open to exploring that, I’d encourage them to use a tool like the 360 and have some conversations with people. , but also I would be asking people, there’s techniques you can use where you are asking people to really think about where were you in that conversation, but where was the other person and mm-hmm <affirmative>, how do you think they might have interpreted or heard what, what you were saying to them in that moment. And so doing some of of that, how, how do you reckon if you were an impartial person watching this conversation, how do you think you might have interpreted what was happening? And that can often give people that, Oh actually I was only thinking about me, but if I go and actually step into that other person’s shoes, maybe I was coming across in a lot more harsher way as I intended. Maybe I’m a very caring person, but I was coming across as smothering.

Maree (00:37:39):


Cynthia (00:37:40):

So there’s lots of techniques that you can use in conversation to to, but it’s all about your awareness. And the research has shown that 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, but actually only 10 to 15% of us actually are self-aware. So we’ve all got a lot of work to do on understanding how we come across to others as well as being in touch with our own emotions. , and no wonder workplaces and han relationships are challenging cuz most of us think we know what’s going on, but we’ve actually got no idea.

Maree (00:38:13):

Mm. It’s, it’s a really interesting insight that you bring here, Sy and I reckon there’s I mean, you know, that I’m completely obsessed with emotional intelligence as well and we, we use different tools, but we’re on the same radio station in that regard. , but it’s, I think it’s really interesting when people have that opportunity to look at things from a whole other perspective or to stand in someone else’s shoes and even even a conversation, regular conversations that I had with my coaching clients about, Okay, so how, who were you being when you turned up that day? Let’s not worry about what you were doing, but who were you being? What did you bring as the leader that day? , okay. Yeah. Well I, I had all this other stuff that I brought with me to work. Okay. So how might that have been leaking out? What did you notice? What would somebody else have seen? Mm. I think these are really useful conversations that we all need to have as we move more on that spectr towards cultivating.

Cynthia (00:39:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Marie. Cuz yeah, we all, we’re all just understandably we see things through our own lens and we are filtering out all this stuff that we think is irrelevant all the time because we can’t possibly take in all the information. And that’s why often two people can be in a conversation and they walk away with totally different understandings of what happened and what was said. So for for leaders it’s also if you’ve had a really a courageous conversation with someone or a, you know, a a performance conversation, it’s really a great idea to follow that up with a, So just to clarify, this is what I understand happened, these are our next steps. And are we on the same page here? Don’t asse that what you’ve heard the other person’s heard or what you’ve experienced the other person has experienced.

Maree (00:40:18):

So true. It’s reminding me of that childhood game we had, you know, the whispering game where one person starts the, the whisper, it gets to the end of the line. It’s an entirely different message. , that is what’s happening in organizations all the time.

Cynthia (00:40:34):

And the other, and the other thing too, Marie, is that leaders often think so, so there’s a lot of research that’s shown that leaders are actually pretty disconnected with the experiences of their on ground staff. So that’s why there can be a little bit of, from some leaders an eye roll into staff are winging. , the research has actually shown, and I’ll just read you, read you something here from Microsoft’s annual work work trend index report. They said that business leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake up call. The report found high levels of overwork and exhaustion among employees, but there’s a major disconnect compared to managers. Some 60, 61% of business leaders say they are thriving 23% higher than those without decision making authority. And this tellies with a wonderful leader, Dr. Michelle McQuaid, who does a lot of research around wellbeing in the workplace. And she found that workplaces workers in roles with more autonomy, such as , the executive or owners or directors, continued to be more likely to report that they’re consistently thriving. While those with less autonomy like unskilled workers were more likely to be really struggling

Maree (00:41:56):


Cynthia (00:41:56):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and leaders were statistically more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing, ability, motivation and psychological safety than their team members. So it’s really easy. And that’s actually, there’s a stat about self-awareness too, that as your position rises in the hierarchy, if you’ve got a hierarchy that your self awareness diminishes, there’s an inverse relationship between self awareness and power. And so really as a cultivating leader as well, really important that you are open to feedback, that you are continually checking in with how are your staff going? And the experience of workers is that and managers is that managers think they’re checking in really regularly with their staff, but the research says as a leader you cannot do this more of too often. So even if you think that you’re connecting and going, how are you going? How are you traveling? You could do it more because your workers think that you need to do it more.

Maree (00:43:00):

Yeah. Yeah. , it sounds to me like a cultivating leader is also someone, Cynthia, who understands power and authority and the impact that that has. So Yep. It sounds like they accept that this is part of the role that they have. They know they they have it. Yep. But they’re also really in tune with what that means for the people who report to them. And there’s something really interesting that’s reminding me of my time as a CEO where I can remember saying to people, they, they would say to me things like, I don’t know how you do the job. And I would let them know that the actual fact being at the top of the tree can be a little bit easier.

Cynthia (00:43:46):


Maree (00:43:47):

Cause you have got your hands on more levers, so your locus of control is actually not as misaligned. Yeah. You’re, you are in control of the inputs and the outputs, whereas for people further down the tree, that is much, much tougher. Absolutely. Really good insight there. Synth. Yeah. I’m, I’m going to quickly look at the chat cuz there’s a couple of, a couple of comments in here. Alicia has said, isn’t it interesting that some organizations feel compelled to go back to the safety of operating as they were, rather than capitalize on all the good things that came out of the pandemic. So yeah. Really nice insight. Yes. We are seeing quite a lot of that. , and Kaylin has asked you a question, which I think you’ve responded to. Yes.

Cynthia (00:44:35):


Maree (00:44:35):

The most capital report. Is this the right path? Yep, that’s right. Beautiful. So I’m going to suggest that people now start thinking about anything they might like to ask you directly sy while we’re having this chat, cuz we’re getting towards the, the last few minutes. So if you’ve got a question for Cynthia that you want to throw into the chat, we can pick that up in our discussion now. And synth, while we’re waiting for people to type those questions in, I would love you to think about what’s the, what’s the biggest thing you would want us to take away from this conversation? Of all the chat that we’ve had about your, your book, your ideas around cultivating leadership you know, where we’ve been in this discussion. What would you most like us to reflect on from today?

Cynthia (00:45:31):

I would like people to imagine, just imagine if we had more cultivating leaders and cultivating cultures rather than cultures of burnout. If we were able to have that, what would our workplaces, our lives, our communities, our industries and our world look like? Really ask yourself that question and allow yourself to dare to dream, to imagine. And I believe we would have a much better world for everyone if we were able to bring this cultivating approach into our lives. , so be the Geelong Football Club. As a leader, ask yourself what can I do to help my staff and myself?

Cynthia (00:46:34):

How can I help myself and my myself get the best and be their best selves? Also remembering that you are han and you’re going to stuff up and that is totally okay. Like leadership’s hard and so sometimes you are not going to be your best self, but be compassionate as well. That’s so important because I don’t know about you Marie, but I can be really hard on myself. And as a, as a leader, you’ve got, you’ve really gotta nurture that side of, of leadership of being compassionate to self and others. And again, the role modeling that you are doing for your staff in that approach is, is really important. , and just two final points, I I just come back to those ones that I’ve made earlier. Investing in wellbeing is actually a business and career decision. It’s not a nice to have or an extra. And really importantly that what got us here won’t get us there and our old ways of operating just aren’t fit for purpose. So we need to, we need to be consciously and deliberately being a bringing a different style of leadership and nurturing a different style of leadership in in our workplaces today.

Maree (00:47:54):

Mm. It’s wonderful, Cynthia. And what you’re really saying is be brave enough to explore different ways. Yep. Be me out there and honest about, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but let’s give it a go and let’s see how we get there together. Very cool. Very cool. Now you’ve got an absolute ripper of a question here from Julie. , what sort of questions to ask in a staff wellbeing survey that gets to the heart of culture? What do you think they think? What kind of questions would you want to go into a, a staff wellbeing survey? What would you know of anyone that’s got some expertise there that we could reference?

Cynthia (00:48:41):

Mm, that is a really great question. So the heart of culture and wellbeing is, I guess it’s tapping into that how safe do you feel at work? How safe do you feel to turn up as yourself? , when you have a problem, are you able to go and talk to people about it and be honest?  do you feel like you can take leave? I mean, that’s a really, really big one for me that so many people I have been working with and talking to feel that they can’t take leave because if they take leave, it’s going to be more stressful because the work will just keep piling up. So how do your, how do you, as a leader, how often do you check in with your staff and have conversations about how they’re going, What, what are the behaviors that we espouse?

Cynthia (00:49:57):

What are our values as as a workplace that we say, but yet, and what behaviors are we seeing in the workplace? So I think that’s, it’s the behaviors that are often show shine a light on our culture that we might say we stand for all these things, but what behaviors are we seeing in the workplace that might reflect those, those values. But also we might be showing behaviors that actually are not in line. What’s the, what’s the reality? If I was a fly on the wall watching this team for a week, what would I be seeing? What would I be hearing? How would I be feeling as a member of this team? So they’re the sorts of questions that, that I would start with.

Maree (00:50:46):

Yeah. Really, really great response there actually, since that’s quite deep. And I wonder if part of it is also when you think about who your role modeling from in the organization, what sort of behaviors are you modeling that could be really telling? Couldn’t it, if you, you are looking up to someone and behaving in a way that models their behavior.

Cynthia (00:51:11):

Absolutely. Yeah. There’s a really there’s a really some work that’s been done on civility by Christine Pra, Dr. Christine Pra. And she says that, yeah, a lot of leaders are in civil un, sorry, are uncivil because that’s what they’re observing in their leaders. So they, they’re mirroring that behavior. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. , so I think, yeah, we as leaders, we’ve really gotta question how we are showing up. And and it’s really important. There’s nothing people hate more than someone who says one thing and does another, or what’s good for the, you know, what’s good for you and what I’m telling you you need to do, I’m not actually doing myself. And that makes people feel really unsafe and it makes the workplace really uncertain. , the other thing I’ve, I’ve heard a great saying of we don’t tolerate brilliant jerks either in the workplace, that just because you’re a great performer, if your behavior isn’t there, if if it’s not on, on song then that is real, a really destructive trait because you’re the leaders letting this person get away because they might be generating the business, but what does that say to the rest of the team?

Cynthia (00:52:30):

So a brilliant jerk is not worth it.

Maree (00:52:33):

Yeah, totally true. Now, since this might be our last question from Debbie before, before we sort of close the recorded session so Debbie’s saying, you opened the session commenting that when leaders cultivate the workplace that supports people to thrive, this is likely to encourage people to stay. Is there research to support this or is the future of accepting our workplace as part of a journey but not a destination? What a great question. So what research have we got to support that premise that you opened? Dway?

Cynthia (00:53:11):

, thank you for that question, Debbie. There’s a lot of research. I just can’t think of what it is right now.

Maree (00:53:17):

<laugh>, it’s in your book,

Cynthia (00:53:19):

<laugh>. Yes, it is. It is in in my book. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. You can Buffy you can edit that out. So yes, there is a lot of research around this and so Gallup, as I’ve said before, that’s really the go to global behaviors wellbeing, leadership place to go to find out the latest research on what’s happening and what’s what, how staff are engaged, what’s keeping them, what’s what we need to do to attract and retain staff. So that’s one resource. , there’s also been Google’s done a project called Project Aristotle, which was a five year study and that is a really great resource to check out as well about what encourages people to stay. And the other one that, that I would is, is another go-to is the work by now I’ve just had a little memory blank. The work on psychological safety in the workplace. , Marie help me out here.

Maree (00:54:34):

I’ve got two people in mind in particular. , so I hope that I’m thinking of the same.  one is Dr. Amy Silva and the work that she has done around fear and Yep. Psychological safety. And the other is our colleague Tanya Heney Root, who wrote a beautiful book called Transforming Norm, which is also about this stuff. , but they may not be the people you are thinking of

Cynthia (00:55:00):

<laugh>. , yeah, we’ll have to edit this bit out Buffy. I’ve really, it’s like, she’s like the nber one psychological safety person in the world. Who is that anyway?

Maree (00:55:16):

Not Brene Brown. You’re not thinking?

Cynthia (00:55:18):

No, not Brene, but Brene’s Good. , Professor Woman. Anyway, sorry. I’ve totally, What’s that?

Maree (00:55:28):

It will come to you when we

Cynthia (00:55:29):

Have, it’ll come, it’ll come to me when it’s all over.

Maree (00:55:31):

<laugh>. We’ve got, we’ve got a lovely comment there from Julie, which I won’t read out but just to say that she’s enjoying listening to our positivity and your answers, Cynthia. So that’s,

Cynthia (00:55:43):

Thanks Julie.

Maree (00:55:44):

We hope you’re feeling better soon. Julie <laugh>. ,

Cynthia (00:55:48):

Carolyn. Oh, thank you Carolyn. Carolyn said Amy Edmondson.

Maree (00:55:53):

Yeah. Is that who you were thinking of?

Cynthia (00:55:57):

Yeah, that’s who I was thinking of. And she also, Carolyn says, and thank you Gallup’s the only study that links the leaving as opposed to engagement. Yep.

Maree (00:56:08):

Nice, nice. Very cool. So Sy you’ve got a few people that are needing to jp off and, and finish up. , so we, we might sort of say thanks and goodbye to everybody for the recorded session. And then if there are people who wanna stay and chat with you, you’ve probably got a few more minutes to hang around, is that

Cynthia (00:56:31):

Right? Absolutely, that is correct. Now I just also wanna draw your attention to the fact that this recording, I’ll send this to you all so that if you wanna go and listen to it again in the podcast form, you can, I would love to encourage you to go and share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues if you found it of value. And I’ll also paste in the chat, I’ve just pasted it in the chat, the Facebook group that you can go and connect with and continue conversations, connect with like-minded people. And finally, our podcast episode one officially will be on Wednesday the 12th from 12 to one. So if you’ve enjoyed connecting in person today and you’d like to continue that kind of style, then come along 12 to one on Zoom and again, we’ll send you the link. And I am going to be interviewing Rural Woman of the Year, New South Wales winner for this year.

Cynthia (00:57:36):

Josie Clark and Josie is a young rural leader who has started a community called Ability Agriculture, where she’s looking at raising the profile helping people with a disability in agriculture connect and also help the, help help the rural sector understand more about disability, understanding about accessibility, how to increase accessibility in agriculture and be aware of that and promote employment opportunities to people with a disability in agriculture. She’s a young rural leader. I think this is just such a great example of a cultivating leader. She started this community herself in response to her father had an accident when, when she was young and was a quadriplegic and had to leave the farm to get a desk based job and, and was finding it really difficult. Can you imagine trying to go to a field today or a farm visit when you’re in a wheelchair?

Cynthia (00:58:41):

So that ignited in her a passion to try to raise the awareness of our rural communities in being more accessible to people with a disability. So I’m looking forward to that conversation. And Marie, I just wanna thank you so much. Thank you so much for being my host today and everyone, because we all love Marie. She’s going to be back as a guest on the podcast. We’ll let you know when that will happen, but we’ve got 10 episodes for the first season and Marie will be one of our very special guests as an interviewee later on.

Maree (00:59:17):

Now I’m nervous. <laugh>, it’s so much easier being on this side of the fence.

Cynthia (00:59:23):


Maree (00:59:25):

Thank you so much for having me, Cynthia, for, for asking me to be your host today. I have loved every moment of this conversation as we knew we would

Cynthia (00:59:35):


Maree (00:59:36):

And you, your book is just beautiful and , I love that so many people have got so much from this today and many more Will. So I’m going to mute myself now and shut up.

Cynthia (00:59:48):

Well thanks, thanks for showing up everyone. And yeah, if you, if you’d like to just, you can unmute yourself, have a bit of a chat, whatever you’d like and if you have to go, you have to go. I’m just responding to a couple little messages here. , how are you Ra

Speaker 6 (01:00:16):

Really good synth, really enjoyed that.

Cynthia (01:00:19):

Oh, thank you.

Speaker 6 (01:00:20):

And I’m so pleased you’re having that girl mobility ag on Next. That’s great.

Cynthia (01:00:25):

Oh good. Have you seen much of Oh you, well we saw her at We Went, Rachel and I went to the Rural Women’s Awards in Canberra and , saw all of the nominees for Woman of the Year and she’s so young like

Speaker 6 (01:00:38):

Yeah, but it’s good since, yeah, I’ve been involved in RDA Australia for nearly 20 years now and it’s a really great to see someone like her obviously that her dad a bit like Robin, what’s her name? She used to be an FSO with Fontera Gray, her dad. Yeah, similar story. , so she’s had a personal motivation to , provoke some change and , I think it’s great cuz I, all those think of all that knowledge, you know, if your body has value, you for some reason, you’ve still got all that knowledge and ability and with all the technology we’ve got these days, like drones, computers, it’s in, you don’t have to be anywhere anymore. That’s the one positive that’s come of Covid, hasn’t it? Yep,

Cynthia (01:01:27):

Yep. Definitely, definitely. Like all these excuses that organizations had for not being able to do things. Oh, you know, it’s too hard to, no one will ever communicate that way. It all went out the window. But, but like someone said on the chat, how fascinating is it that some, despite productivity actually going up in the pandemic leaders, some leaders Elon Musk saying you’ve gotta come back to the workplace.

Speaker 6 (01:01:56):

Yeah, but he’s a different kind of cat, isn’t he? Yes, he operates, he operates on a different plane. I feel since I feel I could safely say that <laugh>.

Cynthia (01:02:05):

Very true, very

Maree (01:02:07):


Cynthia (01:02:08):

, but yeah, there’s still, you know, a lot of, a lot of trust issues, although it is tricky with like, I’m 50 ish, so, but if I reckon if I was in my twenties, I, you know, for socially I would really wanna be back in the workplace and just kind of unders and connecting and getting to know people. So yeah, I think there’s a bit of a balance there that we’ve still gotta work out. ,

Speaker 6 (01:02:32):

We’re about to embark on mental health first aid stuff too again. Yeah. Oh great. Because at our organization we’ve had some issues with Covid and people struggling at being in their own workspace. Yeah. And to be honest, Cynthia, if my children, if, I mean I do physical work outside, but if I was trapped at home with my children, but it’d be like an episode of Survivor Gone Wrong, wouldn’t it? Yeah. <laugh>, like <laugh>, I’d really enjoy going back to the office wherever you Yeah. Physically worked.

Cynthia (01:03:03):

Yep, yep. And again, it’s that privilege, you know if you are a in one, you know, in one of those housing commission flats with three, you know, generations living with no space, or if you’re a child who schools the only safe environment that you’ve got, domestic violence, all of those things, then, you know, you don’t wanna be stuck at home. Whereas for me, I’ve got my, my study, I’ve got a space so, you know, and I’m very connected, so I’m quite happy to be at home, plus I’m more experienced and I don’t have the, you know, that, that, that need when you are younger to kind of have your, your social and work together.

Speaker 6 (01:03:47):

Yeah. Mm. Well this is good, an exciting space and you think your podcasts are going to be around half now to 45 minutes long?

Cynthia (01:03:57):

, I don’t, well that’s what we are kind of trialing today, so I reckon by the time, I reckon that’ll be about 45 minutes.

Speaker 6 (01:04:05):

That’s good. Because I found like, just my personal experience, I’ve got a girlfriend who had a podcast that comes and goes now, and in the beginning it was short and punchy, 30 to 45 minutes. You could listen to it in the car going to town or while you were doing something. Yeah. , and then eventually it dragged out to an hour and a half and it became a chore to listen to. Oh no. And I’m actually said to her in the end mate. It’s just too long. Yeah. It’s impossible to keep on top of and start feeling like a challenge to catch up on. Yeah.

Cynthia (01:04:38):

Yeah. No, that’s really good to hear Rachel, cuz I’ve gotta watch myself cause I’m really long winded as you know, and so I love to talk

Speaker 6 (01:04:45):

Informative, sin, informative.

Cynthia (01:04:48):

So I’ve, I’ve, I’ve gotta really be a brief host and , keep it, really keep it to time. So yeah, I reckon if we could do, I mean there’s always five minutes at the beginning where you’re faffing around a bit, but if I can keep it about 40, 45 minutes and then have some chat at the end just casually. I think that’d be good.

Speaker 6 (01:05:11):

Cool. I’ll better let you get on date.

Cynthia (01:05:14):

Okay, thanks.

Speaker 6 (01:05:15):


Cynthia (01:05:16):

See ya.

Speaker 6 (01:05:17):

Good to meet you Marie. Bye.

Cynthia (01:05:18):

Rachel. Byebye right to switch. Good job. Yay. Rachel is the chair at Murray Dairy.


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